188. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion of Chile.]

Nixon: What I was going to say, that—it had to relate to your meeting with Dobrynin. You may come to the point where—first, you may—you may have the point about, first, the SALT thing. The second point that you may have, either with it, or have to consider, is the summit thing.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: What we want [them] to understand is that while we, of course, want SALT

Kissinger: No, we can do the summit—

Nixon: —we also need to have the summit. We will take it with it—we can take the summit without it.

Kissinger: I’ve understood that.

Nixon: And we’ve got to—I mean, I’d indicate that to him, that I may. But the other point is that I think that in terms of the announcement of it, now, we’re not going to screw around.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: I want the announcement made early.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: I don’t mean three weeks from now. I don’t mean two weeks from now. If he’s—let’s put him right to the sword and find out, “When do you want to announce it?”

Kissinger: Well, Mr. President—

[Page 545]

Nixon: We need to start talking about this. In other words—

Kissinger: I—

Nixon: —let’s try to move his timetable up and get it sealed, because, you know, things can happen between now and that demonstration, of course, which might change their mind.

Kissinger: My—I will do that. My judgment is that, given the fact that they have these damn [Politburo] meetings every Thursday, that two weeks is the earliest they can do it.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: But I will push for the earliest possible summit announcement and in less than—in a matter of a week or two. And for all we know—

Nixon: He may—and the SALT thing, be ready to announce it as soon as we can.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: You see what I mean?

Kissinger: The SALT they ought to be able to announce within a week. There’s just no excuse why we can’t do that and then this summit, two or three days afterwards. I may just—It would be, if we could write the script, be best if they came in sequence. But I—

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: They shouldn’t be held up for each other.

Nixon: The reason that we cannot do it on that basis at the present time—there are some advantages to us in having something positive in the near future.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Now, if we can’t get it, you won’t get it. I understand that.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: But we know how—what kind of game he plays too.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: If they play with us now, it’s cold turkey. If he wants to do something, fine. We should hold them—

Kissinger: That’s exactly—

Nixon: But I don’t want to have a long tortured deal where he’s really diddling us and—because that’s what they did before. They’ve been doing that a long time. This is fish or cut bait.

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: So today, we decide when we’re going to—if we’re going to have an agreement on the SALT, when we release it. And second, if we’re going to have a summit, when we’ll announce that. And let’s go on it. As I hinted, I believe we should go on it now—

[Page 546]

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: —on the announcement. In other words, I’m not thinking in terms of, “We are reasonable, we’ll wait two or three weeks and try to pick a time,” and so forth. Do it whenever the time is good for us, because that will override a lot of other things that are going on.

Kissinger: Right. Right.

Nixon: For a while.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: [By] override, I mean, like the—as you know, it won’t last too long. The China thing has lasted, I mean, it lasted a couple of days and then it flew out the window.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Now, we’ll—

Kissinger: I think this China thing—

Nixon: This one is longer—

Kissinger: Oberdorfer had a very good story today—2

Nixon: I know. I know. But that’s just been one article.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: If it’s not television, it’s gone. You see, the point is that you have to realize that that’s what really matters in terms of the public thing. After all, the television at the present time is—has zeroed in on these people. It’ll zero in on the demonstrations Saturday.3 And then they’ll try to play it with the next two weeks. They’re stringing it out, and it’s highly unconscionable reporting on the part of television.

Kissinger: Oh, it’s awful.

Nixon: Highly unconscionable. They’re just—

Kissinger: Well, they want to destroy you and they want us to lose in Vietnam.

Nixon: I really think that it’s more, it’s more the latter. If they destroy me, I think it’s—if they think, they know, they know that they’re both the same.

Kissinger: That’s right.

[Page 547]

Nixon: But deep down, basically, you want to realize that critics of the war are furious, that when they thought they had it licked, when they threw Johnson out of office, they thought, “Well, now, we’ve won our point on the war.” Now, we’ve come in and it looks like we’re going to—they know what it is.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: They do, because, despite all the way we, look, put the cosmetics on, Henry, they know goddamn well that what our policy is, is to win the war.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And winning the war simply means—

Kissinger: But it—

Nixon: —that South Vietnam survives. That’s all.

Kissinger: To come out honorably—

Nixon: That wins the war.

Kissinger: That’s right.

[Omitted here is further discussion of Vietnam, including opposition in Washington and negotiations in Paris.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 487–7. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portion of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon and Kissinger met in the Oval Office on April 23 from 11:56 a.m. to 12:19 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. In his article, Oberdorfer observed: “Mr. Nixon’s change in direction, reflecting a lengthy process of personal and official consideration, is a sign of his own growth as well as a sign of the times. The emerging turn in China policy may prove to be one of his historic moves as President.” (Don Oberdorfer, “Nixon’s Swing on China,” Washington Post, April 23, p. A23) According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met Oberdorfer on April 20 from 3:05 to 3:46 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) No other record of the conversation has been found.
  3. April 24. A coalition of anti-war groups and labor unions organized a mass rally in Washington on April 24, attracting an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 demonstrators.